Attending the Traditional Mass: Well Worth the Effort

Editor’s note: this was first published on March 20, 2015, under the pen name Benedict Constable, and is republished today under its author’s name.

Doing violence to one’s family heritage is always bad, it can never be good. No less is this true of the Church, the Family of God, on her pilgrimage through history. Casting away precious gifts from the inheritance of the saints, removing or watering down the means of sanctification passed down to us, is always bad, it can never be good. It bespeaks a loss of gratitude, a confusion of priorities, and an unchaste mingling with the spirit of the age, which is always opposed to the spirit of the Gospel.

Making it harder for Christians to sanctify time, to understand secular time in relation to sacred time, is always bad, it can never be good. Hence, the abolition of the millennium-old “Sundays after Pentecost”– by which most of the year was tied back explicitly to the great mystery of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon all flesh –and its replacement by “Sundays of Ordinary Time,” was simply a mistake, a deviation; it could never have been good. To have abolished the ancient season of Septuagesima, which helped Christians prepare for the rigors of Lent, was and is contrary to the good of the faithful.

To have flagrantly contradicted, deviously manipulated, or gratuitously exaggerated the directives of Sacrosanctum Concilium  in order to carry out a liturgical revolution that was neither debated nor desired by the council fathers can only have been bad, it could never be good. It was destined to be cursed by the just God, for such mendacity concerning His gifts and such violence done to them cannot be blessed.

Once modernism had invaded the sanctuary and permeated the liturgy, its victory was won. There was no need for explicit theological modernism at this point; it had triumphed by invading the nerve center of the religion and spreading its poison from there throughout the Church on earth. The battle against Modernism, in spite of the promising military exploits of Pope St. Pius X, has been lost, as regards the “new Church” that emerged after Vatican II. The only portion of the Church that is still fighting Modernism are the traditional enclaves that cherish and celebrate the Mass of our forefathers, the Mass of Trent, the Mass of the Roman Church back to St. Gregory the Great and before. This Mass, and all the sacramental rites surrounding it, perfectly enshrines and expresses the Catholic Faith in its full integrity, beauty, and incarnational transcendence. In its absence, that integrity is broken apart, that beauty is forgotten or denigrated, and the incarnational transcendence is surrendered to the suffocating secularism of modernity.

What the baptized have a divine right to, and what our children deserve for the good of their souls, is the liturgy as the Church herself gives it to us. Neither the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy nor the Novus Ordo Missae as promulgated by Pope Paul VI mandated or even so much as mentioned:

  • the priest facing the people;
  • the use of laity to distribute the sacred species;
  • the reception of holy communion on the hand and in a standing posture;
  • the involvement of women and girls in the sanctuary as substitutes for acolytes;
  • the virtual abolition of the Latin language;
  • the substitution of pop-style songs for the chanted Ordinary of the Mass and of vernacular hymns for the chanted Propers of the Mass.

All of these practices are post-conciliar innovations or novelties that fly in the face of Catholic tradition. They are notorious embodiments of what Pope Benedict XVI has called the “hermeneutic of rupture and discontinuity” whereby Catholic doctrine, life, and worship have been divorced from longstanding (in some cases, even apostolic) Catholic tradition.

As a result, habitual attendance at such Masses is not a liturgical formation but more truly a liturgical deformation that disposes Christians to a false understanding of the Faith. I am speaking here in regard to the Ordinary Form; the praxis of the typical Western parish is a deformation even of that form of the Roman Rite, whichas the work of Gamber, Ratzinger, Dobszay, Mosebach, Pristas, and others has exhaustively shown—is itself a deformation of the Roman rite in what is now called its “Extraordinary Form.” In other words, those who attend the typical parish Mass are experiencing a doubly deformed liturgy: the celebration is deviant from its own rubrics and available elements of continuity, and in addition to that, it is an objective deviation from the traditional Roman liturgy. How is a well-formed and well-nourished Catholic supposed to emerge from this chaos of liturgical novelty and obscuration? There is no Christ without tradition. There is no Church without tradition. There is no liturgy without tradition.

Martin Mosebach has aptly spoken of the “hemorrhaging” of the Western church. To the extent that our children are miseducated by an already deformed liturgy celebrated in a deformed manner, we are contributing to the perpetuation of the problem, not to its providential solution, which consists either in returning wholeheartedly to the tradition or, at very least, celebrating the Ordinary Form as reverently, solemnly, and beautifully as possible. Practically, this will often be a question of the “lesser evil.” Most of us are not fortunate enough to be living near a parish or chapel staffed by the Fraternity of St. Peter, the Institute of Christ the King, or some other such society, so the question will be: Which liturgy, within reasonable distance from where I live, is most in accord with Catholic Tradition? Where is the Ordinary Form celebrated with the fewest departures from the established norms? Where is its overall gestalt most Catholic in spirit?

Now, an objection could be raised to this line of argument: Isn’t it very important for children to experience a parish, to become acquainted with its families, to socialize after Mass, and so forth? Don’t they need to have that “horizontal” experience of the People of God in their locale? All things being equal, this would be true, and in optimal conditions it is true. But we are living in a crisis situation where the very meaning and identity of Catholic faith and life are at stake. The social good is a good indeed, but it pales in comparison to the good of divine worship, which more nearly touches on the infinite divine good itself. We are more obliged to cultivate faith, hope, and charity towards the Blessed Sacrament and the Blessed Trinity than we are to cultivate neighborly relationships, and when the latter stands in tension with the former, the former must be preferred. The proper formation of mind and heart by the power and sanctity of the Church’s liturgy is more urgent, more profound, and more lasting than social formation that may occur among parishioners at the local Novus Ordo parish. Naturally, if one is fortunate enough to find a traditional parish or chapel that also meets the children’s social needs, one is taking down two birds with one stone.

Pope Benedict XVI was fond of quoting St. Benedict: “Let nothing be put before the opus Dei,” that is, the worship of God. When we parents do as we are supposed to do in this regard, the Lord will add the rest on to us: “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you.”

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